June 16, 2019

Maine Yankee plant at 90 percent power > Internal investigation to boost power costs

WISCASSET — Maine Yankee will begin the process this week of proving to federal regulators that the nuclear power plant is safe to operate at full power, officials said Monday.

The newly repaired plant was brought up to 90 percent of its power capacity on Monday afternoon. It cannot go beyond that until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves.

Charles Frizzle, president and chief executive officer, said early results of an internal investigation indicate Maine Yankee officials did not mislead the NRC about the plant’s safety.

“I have very high confidence that we will be able to demonstrate there was no wrongdoing on the part of Maine Yankee personnel,” he said.

Frizzle also said he had full confidence in a computer model used to determine safety at the plant and that the data that will be submitted to the NRC will prove there was never a safety issue.

But he admitted that the investigation will effectively drive up the cost of Maine Yankee’s electricity by 10 percent this year.

Because the plant cannot operate at full power, the average cost of electricity produced at the plant is projected to be between 3 and 3.3 cents per kilowatt hour, Frizzle said. He said last month that the plant hoped to produce electricity for 2.7 cents per kilowatt hour.

Nuclear critic Bill Linnell said Maine Yankee’s electricity will be more costly than power currently available from other sources.

“Maine Yankee replacement power has been available as cheaply as Maine Yankee can produce it. Who needs to take the risk when replacement power is so cheap?” Linnell said Monday.

The latest setback for Maine Yankee arose in December as the plant was preparing to return to service after an unprecedented repair to reinforce thousands of cracked steam generator tubes.

An anonymous letter accused engineers working for Maine Yankee of misleading the NRC to justify a power upgrade to 910 megawatts. The letter writer said the plant’s safety was compromised.

The allegations revolved around a computer model that Maine Yankee used in several safety systems, including the emergency core coolant system.

The NRC launched dual investigations: one into the allegations about plant safety and the other into allegations that engineers working for Maine Yankee intentionally misled regulators.

Frizzle said he expects to submit “within days to a few weeks” data based on the same computer model proving that the plant is safe to operate at full power, or 910 megawatts.

An internal investigation into the allegations of misconduct will be complete next month, Frizzle said. The investigation is being conducted by a law firm that specializes in nuclear issues.

Frizzle said that while he is confident he can prove the plant’s safety, it may prove more difficult to convince a skeptical public that the nuclear power plant is completely safe.

Maine Yankee officials claimed the plant was safe while the problems went uncovered, Linnell said, so “I don’t see any evidence that we should believe them now.”

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